Nine local high school basketball teams have earned the right to compete in the post-season.
The ninth-ranked girls’ team in Class D North, Easton, had a road preliminary playoff game against No. 8 Wisdom standing between them and their first trip to the tournament in nearly 25 years.
All the other teams that qualified — the Presque Isle girls, Easton boys and the girls’ and boys’ teams from Central Aroostook, Fort Fairfield and Washburn — earned byes through the prelim round straight into the quarterfinals, which begins Friday at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.
Not making this year’s post-season are the Presque Isle Wildcat boys and both girls’ and boys’ teams at Ashland.
A look at each of the nine playoff teams follows:
Presque Isle girls
The Wildcat girls lost only three games all year, two to No. 1 Houlton and one to No. 2 Mount Desert Island, and go in themselves as the third seed in Class B North.
“We had a great regular season,” said PI coach Jeff Hudson. ‘We always expect to be very good, but going 15-3 was a great accomplishment after losing so many seniors from last year’s team.
“This group worked hard from the beginning to the end and should have some confidence moving forward,” he added.
Presque Isle led late but lost on a last-second shot to Houlton last Tuesday at home and scored 44 second-half points in a victory at Caribou Thursday.
The Wildcats draw the winner of the prelim between No. 6 John Bapst and No. 11 Orono, with that quarterfinal serving as the B-C-D North tournament opener Friday at 5 p.m. Hudson said John Bapst is one of the most athletic teams in the tourney and would be a tough matchup, while Orono is a very strong defensive team with an excellent backcourt duo.
PI is led by sophomore point guard Emily Wheaton, who averages 16.2 points per game and leads the team in steals, assists and three-pointers made. Junior Emily Lagerstrom (9.5 ppg) and seniors Taylor Williams (7 ppg), Regan Nelson (6.5 ppg) and Olivia Hudson (6 ppg) all pose threats to opposing defenses.
Olivia Hudson has served as a valuable defensive stopper with strong outings at home against MDI’s Kelsey Shaw and Houlton’s Kolleen Bouchard. Skylar Vogel, a junior, comes off the bench and helps the inside game.
“We need Regan and Vogel to score and rebound well,” Hudson said. “Regan has stepped up her game in the tournament the past two years and we are hoping she will do that again.”
PI’s regular season ended with Thursday’s 77-51 win over Caribou. The Wildcats led by only one point at halftime, but finished with 12 three-pointers and won going away. Lagerstrom scored 20 points and Wheaton netted 17 as the duo combined for nine of the three-point field goals. Nelson and Hudson were also in double figures with 13 and 12 points, respectively.
Fort Fairfield girls
The Fort Fairfield girls made the move up to Class C appear seamless, going 17-1 and surging to the top ranking in the division heading into the playoffs.
The Tigers of coach Larry Gardner are a veteran group, with four seniors who are all fourth-year varsity players with plenty of experience on both the Bangor Auditorium and the Cross Insurance Center floors.
Chelsey Pelkey is the floor general who puts up statistics in a number of different ways. She is a savvy guard who sees the floor well and finds teammates who are open. Taylor Churchill is the leading scorer who does most of her damage on fast breaks. Teresa Maynard is a strong post player who rebounds well and Kayla Giberson is another strong inside player who chips in on the offensive end when needed.
The fifth starter is sophomore Marissa Brouette. Emma Campbell is a reserve guard who had a breakout game late in the season against Washburn with 17 points.
Fort Fairfield’s only loss came in December at Katahdin and the squad will open its playoff run by taking on either No. 8 Calais or No. 9 George Stevens in the opening round. The Tigers have their work cut out for them as coach Gardner said his team lost to Calais by 20 points in an exhibition played last summer.
The Tigers defeated Central Aroostook at home last Wednesday, 77-31, in their final game before the playoffs. FF registered a 31-point first quarter and cruised from there. Churchill fired in 21 points, Pelkey had 14 and Giberson 13 in the win.
Fort Fairfield boys
Last season, the Tigers experienced immediate success in Logan McLaughlin’s first year as head coach, making it all the way to the Class D state finals. Fort Fairfield is now toiling in the very competitive Class C ranks, but still put together a fine regular season as evidenced by its 14-4 record and No. 2 ranking.
Fort Fairfield meets up against the winner of tonight’s No. 7 Hodgdon-No. 10 Narraguagus prelim in a quarterfinal game slated for 11:05 a.m. next Wednesday, Feb. 17.
The Tigers are a defensive-minded squad with some solid offensive players, making them a difficult opponent. FF started 1-3 but prevailed in 13 of its final 14 games.
“I knew early on our inexperience was going to show, especially with one of the toughest parts of our schedule being those first couple weeks,” McLaughlin said. “As we got comfortable and the guys started to understand their roles, things have started to fall into place.”
Chris Giberson (14.8 ppg) and Isaac Cyr (14.5 ppg) are the offensive leaders, but others such as point guard Ryan Player and reserve Carter Bruce are capable of putting up good numbers. Josh Ricker, Colin Goshorn and Landon Kinney are valuable role players in the frontcourt.
Fort Fairfield had a difficult challenge in its final game, holding off Southern Aroostook, 66-61, in a game played in Dyer Brook Thursday. Giberson’s 21 points and Cyr’s 20 led the way, while Player chipped in with 12 more. Nolan Altvater pumped in 29 for the Warriors.
Under the leadership of a new coach in Manny Martinez, the Bears responded by grabbing the No. 1 position in Class D North. The Bears went 16-2, dropping their opener at Southern Aroostook and losing midway through the season to Fort Fairfield. Other than those two losses, the team has been stellar throughout.
Excellent defense has been the hallmark of this year’s Easton team, which has held opponents to 51 points or less every time after allowing 66 in the opening loss to the Warriors.
Logan Halvorson has put together a brilliant senior season, leading the team in scoring and establishing himself as one of the top three-point marksmen in Aroostook County. Jake Flewelling, a junior, is another double-digit scorer who is strong inside.
Senior Drew Sotomayor is a steady player on both ends of the court, junior Hunter Brown is a defensive stopper who has limited the production of offensive talents such as Washburn’s Jarrett Olson and Southern Aroostook’s Jackson Mathers. Rounding out the starting five is 6-3 junior center Jordan Doody.
Easton will play a familiar foe in the quarterfinals. The Bears open against either No. 8 Wisdom or No. 9 Van Buren. The Bears played both teams during the season and won all four games by at least 25 points. That quarterfinal will take place Monday at 8:35 p.m.
Flewelling poured in a season-high 29 points and Halvorson chipped in with nine, including the 1,000th of his career, as the Bears bested Washburn Thursday, 60-50, in the mutual regular season finale.
The Beavers are the five-time defending Class D regional and state champion and even though they lost four games this season, are the No. 2 seed and considered a serious threat to capture another title.
Washburn (14-4) won nine of its final 10 regular season games, including one on the road against No. 1 Southern Aroostook.
“I think this team has made a significant amount of progress throughout the season,” said fourth-year coach Diana Trams. “I am proud of the effort that they have put in and I am pleased that they gained confidence along the way.”
The Beavers lost 80 percent of their scoring from last year after Mackenzie Worcester and Joan Overman graduated, but have competed well and have the best record among all the teams in Class D North.
Seniors Emmy Churchill, Laina Mette and Grace Braley have all had big offensive games during the season, as has freshman Kassie Farley, while senior Taylor Howe has chipped in with some fine interior play. The Washburn defense averaged 15 steals per game, while the offense scores at a 50 ppg clip and allows an average of 40 ppg.
Washburn will face either No. 7 Katahdin or No. 10 East Grand/GHCA in the quarterfinals, with the game set to tip off Saturday at 9:05 p.m. Trams continues Katahdin to be one of the top three teams in the division as the Cougars play a mostly Class C schedule, while East Grand/GHCA has won some big games and even took SA to overtime before losing.
“Keys will be defensive pressure, creating opportunities from that and begin able to rebound, especially against teams that have a size advantage,” Trams said.
The Beavers logged a 51-32 win over Easton Thursday to close out their regular season slate. Braley fired in 19 points and Farley 13 to pace the offense.
The Beaver boys take the No. 4 seed into the Class D tournament but coach Randy Norsworthy said the team’s 13-5 mark fell short of their expectations.
“It was not up to the goals that we started the season holding,” he said, noting the five losses are the most the team has had in the last seven seasons, “but I give credit to Easton and Fort Fairfield for having great seasons.”
The Beavers lost two games each to the Bears, the No. 1 team in Class D, and the Tigers, the No. 2 team in Class C, with the other coming to SA, the third seed in the ‘D’ ranks.
The Beavers will take on No. 5 Bangor Christian at 7:05 p.m. Monday in the quarters. The Patriots own a sub .500 record at 8-9, but played a difficult schedule and gained points by beating some Class C squads.
Jarrett Olson averaged 19 ppg and seven rebounds per contest and joined the school’s 1,000-point club a few weeks ago. Fellow senior Noah Caron averages 11 ppg and leads the team in assists with three per game. Both players bring plenty of tournament experience as four-year players. Derek Baker is a three-point threat, averaging 9 ppg, while Brandon Cropley plays inside and also averages 9 ppg. The fifth starter, McCall Turner, is another capable scorer at 8 ppg.
Baker notched 17 points, Olson had 12 and Cropley 11 in the loss at Washburn Thursday. Two nights earlier, in a 76-51 victory at Central Aroostook, Olson had 22 points and Baker 20 to lead the charge.
Central Aroostook girls
The Panther girls appear to be getting healthy at the right time as they embark on another tourney appearance. Central Aroostook went 12-6 and are in fourth place in ‘D’ girls, with a quarterfinal looming against No. 5 Machias, a team they nearly knocked off in the same round last year.
CA is under new leadership in coach Cody Tompkins, but the Panthers have really benefitted late in the season from the return of injured players. Senior Karli Levesque has seen her minutes increase as the season has progressed and junior Kelsey Dominique is back after missing half the season.
Both are part of a talented rotation which also includes senior Molly Anthony, sophomores Kassie Levesque, Isabelle Wright and Caitlyn Harris; and freshman Ashlee Harris.
The Panthers captured their biggest victory of the regular season Jan. 22, topping Southern Aroostook, 56-54, on a last-second layup by Karli Levesque to cap a 10-point fourth-quarter comeback.
In Machias, CA square off against a 9-8 team that features senior center Tate Dolley, the all-time leading scorer in school history with over 1,300 points. The game will be played at 2:05 p.m. Monday afternoon.
Ashlee Harris scored 10 points and Caitlyn Harris contributed nine in the loss at Fort Fairfield to close out regular season play.
Central Aroostook boys
The Panther boys also had a new coach this season in Jason Woodworth, a longtime JV coach under Tim Brewer. Central Aroostook missed out on the playoffs last year, but are back thanks to a 10-8 regular season record, placing the Panthers in sixth place in Class D North.
The squad was able to pick up a quality win over Class C Hodgdon, the No. 7 team in that division, by an impressive 60-41 final. CA also led by 10 points at Washburn before faltering in the second half and coming out on the short end.
Woodworth said the team has played well in stretches throughout the season, but has been up and down for the most part.
“Our defense has kept us in most games, but our offense is far too inconsistent and that has cost us some games down the stretch,” said the coach.
CA gets a tough draw in the quarterfinals by squaring off against Southern Aroostook, which recorded lopsided wins over CA by scores of 78-45 and 82-48.
“It’s probably the most unfavorable matchup we could have gotten, but we could have some success against them if we can dictate the tempo, keep their two stars (Mathers and Altvater) in check and don’t give up two or three chances on the offensive glass.”
The game will be played at 9:30 a.m. Monday.
CA has been led by senior Dustin Pryor, who averages 12 ppg, and junior Zachary Crouch at 11 ppg. Riley McGrath is a senior leader and junior Clark Bradbury and sophomores Caleb Harris and Colby Kingsbury are among the other key players, along with freshman Ben Thomas.
In the 25-point loss to Washburn at home last Tuesday, Pryor was the only Panther in double figures with 13 points.
The Bears got off to a pretty good start this season, but faltered during the midway point. This forced the team to have to play in the prelim round.
Still, coach Bryan Shaw’s team was able to win seven games and has a chance at a rare appearance in the tourney. The squad suffered through a seven-game losing streak, which included a loss to Hodgdon — the Hawks’ only win of the year. On the other side, the Bears gave No. 1 Southern Aroostook a pair of good games, losing by just five points each time. The Bears did finish strong, having won four out of five before Thursday’s loss at home to the Beavers.
“Our girls have started jelling on both ends of the floor and we were able to grind out some key games late,” Shaw said. “I am really happy with the effort and increase in energy as we closed out the regular season.”
Junior Elise Allen, who scored a team-high nine points in the recent loss to Washburn, has been an offensive leader by averaging 8 ppg. Senior shooting guard Blake Bradley also averages 8 ppg, while Delaney Leach comes off the bench and averages around 8 ppg as well.
Sophomore point guard Isabelle Morin joins Sara Gilman, Casey Lovely and Emma Bonner as other keys in Easton’s rotation.
A win over Wisdom would pave the way toward a third meeting against SA, which would be played at 3:35 p.m. Monday afternoon.
“It’d be exciting to play them again with our girls now playing the best that they have all season,” Shaw said.